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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, in speaking on this delicate matter, I should make it clear that I have no clue as to what my party said at the Speaker's Conference, so what I am about to say may be politically incorrect, in which case I shall probably be corrected by my noble friend Lady Northover, who knows much more about these things than I do. I agree with what
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I am all in favour of positive action, especially to ensure that both halves of the human race are properly reflected in our elected parliamentary and other bodies. As a short or medium-term measure, I support positive action to achieve that, including, for example, women- only shortlists. One reservation that I have about treating this subject across the board is not only personal privacy but also that we do not want our elected Parliament to become like the United Nations. In other words, we do not want to start having quotas in which each interest group, whether ethnic or religious or not religious, gay or straight, or old or young are able to clamour for equal representation-quite apart from what Edmund Burke would have said about that to the electors of Bristol about the duties of a Member of Parliament to all her or his constituents. It is undesirable and divisive to divide people up into herds or groups and then start saying that this is about group rights, and so on.
I am not saying in any way that I am opposed to these amendments. I am simply saying that the matter is very sensitive and I would hope that the kind of remarks that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has made and I have made reflect also the views of the Government in their approach to these amendments.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I align myself with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester. What puzzles me in the drafting of this amendment is what is almost a duty in subsection (2). It says "must" and refers to,
and so on. Subsection (11) of the new clause then says:
"Nothing in this section authorises a political party to require a person to provide information to it".
How is it going to do it? On one hand it must and on the other it cannot. For me, the drafting does not help.
Secondly, human rights accrue to humans because they are human beings; they do not accrue to groups. It would worry me if a particular party seemed to have information that showed that it had a particular group of a protected category in large numbers so that you could then say that the party that did not have the same number was a party that did not welcome anybody. This is a charter for those who always want to cause grief. Some people actually want to remain private in their particular ways of saying things. It would be difficult to ask someone what their religion was, because the person might say, "It's none of your business-why are you asking me?" Must we really reduce our individual persons to declaring always who they are, where they
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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I have one further thing to ask. Does the Minister agree that what is really important is to eliminate direct and indirect discrimination in all the political parties with regard to the selection of candidates? If that is properly followed through, these provisions will become less important.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I shall be quick; I appreciate the time factor. I think the Minister will understand that this is a major advance in a range of fields, not least regarding transparency, which the electorate understands. We all know the rumours, allegations and snide and derogatory remarks about the general make-up of candidates in a party, so I congratulate the opposition Front Bench for having so clearly told us that the principle that is enshrined in this amendment, if not the detail, is endorsed by their party leader. That is based on his sensitivity to the charge that may be made, as it may to any party, that within that party there is an element that is undesirable.
The most reverend Primate has indicated that this could be a charter for causing grief. That is always possible; at the moment, without any aspect of legislation, grief can already be created.
Other than the nitpicking that might occur regarding one aspect or another, the principle that the public are entitled to have as much information as possible about the make-up of candidates-not individually, no names to be published, no ability for people to be identified-the general principle is sound. The Government ought to be congratulated on bringing forward the amendment.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, like the most reverend Primate and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, I enter a cautionary note before the amendments are incorporated into the Bill. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, in his place; when we served in the other place, I served as Chief Whip of the old Liberal Party and the noble Lord was the Deputy Chief Whip. In that capacity I was chairman of the party's candidates committee.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I had anxieties about the failure to provide sufficient candidates of a variety to show the make-up of society as a whole, but unlike him I did not come to the conclusion that we therefore needed all-women shortlists, any more than I believe in all-men shortlists. I was able to change the rules at that time so that candidate lists of three would always include one person of the opposite sex, whatever that might be. I felt that that moved towards the idea of a more representative balance of candidates while avoiding some of the problems of quotas. Ultimately, merit should surely be high on the agenda, and we should be choosing people who will serve in both Houses of Parliament.
I have enormous admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton-we served together in another place-and I know that it was as a result of his experience on the ground that he was such a tremendous voice for people from difficult backgrounds because he himself understood those backgrounds very well. I sense that we have created in Parliament a class of people who may represent the Westminster village but often do not represent life in the world outside. Maybe that is one of the reasons why organisations like the BNP have been attracting support. We must be careful that we do not so organise ourselves as to tick so many boxes that Parliament itself becomes unrepresentative of the nation. People should be chosen on the basis of merit.
I argued in your Lordships' House, in a short debate that I initiated a couple of weeks ago, in favour of the single transferable voting system. The reason why I did so was that when you draw up lists of candidates under STV, it is impossible for a political party to put forward a list that is entirely drawn from one particular background. Sometimes we do not go for the more fundamental solutions, but look for the cosmetic answers to issues.
I hope that we will look more deeply at that question, rather than rely on something that in itself may distort the picture. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, rightly said, people will be free not to give information if they do not wish to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred to that when he said that privacy is an important issue. If they do not give such information-someone may have a religious affiliation and may change later-it makes a mockery of the data that have been collected. The data would not then be accurate and would make all sorts of judgments on the basis of things that are not necessarily true.
The most reverend Primate also spoke about the balance that has to be struck between privacy and openness. It is strange that things which one would imagine should be open in society often are kept secret and things to which people should have access often are concealed. Many times these concern grave issues of public policy. However, issues that are legitimately private are trawled across the front pages of national newspapers. Sometimes, rather than peering into people's souls or under their bed-clothes, it would be better to look at the type of matters in which Parliament should be involved, which affect the lives of people every day.
As I have suggested, religion is particularly difficult to assess. Not only do people sometimes change their religion by converting from one to another, there are so many religions and denominations within religions that it would be very difficult to measure. Do the Government need to make sure that 0.7 per cent of Labour candidates, for instance, are Jedi in line with the results of the 2001 census? What about local concentrations? In Brighton and Hove, the Jedi make up 2.7 per cent of the population according to the census, whereas the population of Easington has just 0.2 per cent. Is Brighton more likely therefore to get a Jedi MP? I make the point for obvious risible reasons. We are in grave danger sometimes when we go down this route of constantly looking to try to make sure
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Lord Monson: My Lords, following the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, not only are there no doubt a number of candidates who would much rather not reveal their sexual preferences to anyone, even if the answers are anonymous, there are surely a number of candidates who are disabled in some way which is not visible to third parties who also want to keep quiet about it. In view of proposed new subsection (11) under Amendment 108KA, which would permit candidates to refuse to reply to a question, does the noble Baroness agree that the statistics which will eventually be published, will not be entirely accurate?
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I turn to something which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said when he was talking about the Jedi and candidates. I am accepting of this in principle, but the raw data are often not enough to change things. For example, I often had candidates who did not want to be categorised. They fiercely wanted to be Conservatives, which was all that they wanted to be. They did not want to be pigeon-holed anywhere.
One could say that each party should have so many minority ethnic candidates, but quite often whether we are changing mainstream society and getting our candidates into mainstream seats is as important. To have candidates who are elected where there is a large minority ethnic community is not the same as getting minority ethnic candidates elected where there is a small minority ethnic community. These things are important as well. I am not sure that the raw data will give the whole picture. The Minister is right. Each party has to work on this unceasingly.
Lord Alli: My Lords, I think that I concur with what many have said in terms of the sensitivity relating to sexuality. However, there is a difference in terms of public representation between those people who are gay and those who are openly gay. There is a real differentiation to make when monitoring those people in public life who stand up and say, "I am gay", and those who have to hide their sexuality. I am not sure that people who are hiding their sexuality, for whatever reason, wherever they sit in terms of their parties, particularly represent me, as a gay man, in their party if they cannot bring themselves to say that they are gay. An issue that I would like the Minister to reflect on is that when we look at the categories that we are monitoring, there is a difference between being openly gay and being gay, for the purposes of candidates.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, as noble Lords know, I have never been keen on women-only shortlists, but I have gradually changed my position, and I suspect that that has been the case for quite a number of your Lordships. This is a step in the right direction. We are gradually changing and it would be good to have some facts and figures, however much they may be distorted, inaccurate and so on. We
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I applaud the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, which she put very well indeed. These are sensitive areas, and it is right that people should not be forced to say what they are not prepared to say. However, if we have facts and figures, it will, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said, encourage people to be more open about their gayness and the other issues that we are talking about. I want a more representative Parliament and more representative local authorities. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, I think it will be splendid when we get to the time where we do not blink when a minority candidate is elected in an almost totally white constituency. I think this is right, and I hope we do it.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York contrasted subsection (2), which is a "must do" requirement to publish, with subsection (11), which is "cannot do" provision that states that a political party cannot require a person to give it the information. How is the duty to be enforced? I am sure noble Lords on all sides would admit that the strength of our respective parties varies in different parts of the country. In my own party, the seat of Edinburgh West has recently gone through a selection process to replace my honourable friend John Barrett, who is standing down. There were numerous applications. It is a well run local party, and I am sure it is quite capable of giving the information to party headquarters to meet this obligation, so far as the candidates provide the information.
I can also think of constituencies that, in party parlance, we call "black hole seats" where, when an election comes along, we are only too pleased to find enough people to sign the nomination paper and where, far from there being enough applications for nomination for a selection, we are delighted to find one person who might want to stand there. At the end of the election, there is a sigh of relief if we have managed to save the deposit, and the local people disappear again. Given some of the financial requirements in legislation, local parties are required to submit returns, but will they be required to submit returns to their national party for onward transmission? Is pressure going to be brought to bear on people who do their bit at election time and are quite happy to retreat into the background at other times? Will the Minister give some indication of where this duty will land and how it is intended to enforce it?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, what a lot of lovely questions and quite rightly, too, as this is a rather important debate. As I mentioned in my introduction, this amendment is being brought forward-yes, it is a government amendment and it is a government Bill-as a consequence of the deliberations and agreements which were made in the Speaker's Conference. It comes from all parties working together under the aegis of the Speaker, who established the conference to consider and make recommendations on how to improve the representation of women, the disabled
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This is not to do with quotas. We do not want the sort of quotas referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. What we are attempting to do, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, is to have a better view of the people who are representing us. All parties involved in the Speaker's Conference believe that to have a healthy democracy we need healthy representation, which involves representation from all sections of our society. In many ways we do not know, at present, who our representatives are because we do not have the data. This is a means of collecting that data. We do not have all the fine details; they have to be worked out with the political parties, the Electoral Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It is very early days but I can assure noble Lords that we will involve all these individuals and bodies when bringing forward the regulations. The collected raw data are not enough to change things, of course. I accept entirely that we have to change the culture. However, we need these data to be catalysts for change.
Noble Lords have spoken about the statistical accuracy of the data, and I draw their attention to the provision in subsection (7)(b) which is designed to ensure that the statistics published are not distorted by the number of people who decline to provide information. I stress this point-individuals do not have to provide the information; it is purely voluntary. This responds to the very important points about sensitivity made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. We must be sensitive toward those individuals who do not wish to provide the information, but we must also be sensitive in the way in which we use the information. The experience that the noble Baroness has in these issues is valuable and we could use it to our benefit. I hope that we can have a dialogue and the noble Baroness will work on this issue, so that we can use her experience when drawing up the regulations.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am very grateful to the Minister. I am not making trouble-I promise-but what worries me is the principle not of collecting the data but of what they are used for. Let us assume that the House of Lords were reduced to 400 Peers-not a bad idea-and let us assume we then had to decide, on an appointed or elected basis, who should be here. Let us think, for example, about my own ethnicity. I am a Jew, but not a religious Jew. Would we then count that there are 300,000 Jews in the population-which there are-and there are six times as many Muslims-which there are? Would we then decide how many Jews and how many Muslims would be representative in this place? That is not a great idea, and it is that principle which I am trying to understand. God forbid that I should ever question anything that has been agreed by the Speaker's Conference, which includes members of my own party. I would like us, however, to reflect on that principle, or lack of it.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Noble Lords are right to reflect on the use of data but I cannot imagine that they would be used as the basis for any quotas, as the noble Lord suggests. It would be up to us all, as participants in our political parties, religious organisations or whatever, to be vigilant and ensure that the regulations are drawn up in such as a way that they could not be used for that purpose.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Was there any discussion about a lighter-touch approach to this? These data surely could be collected anyway. Dod's Parliamentary Companion is already available to answer many of the questions that many of us know the answers to anyway through the use of our own eyes when we look at this place, another place and other elected chambers throughout the United Kingdom. Was there no discussion between the political parties about simply doing this anyway without the need for legislation, which seems to be a very dirigiste approach?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I cannot, in all honesty, answer the noble Lord's question. I know that the basis for the Government's amendment was discussions, not just within the Speaker's Conference but around the amendment tabled by one of my honourable friends in the other place, which had the support of many other parties.
I am going to answer as best I can some of the points made this evening. I am then going to take back the Government's amendment and reflect on various aspects of it. It will not necessarily be changed a great deal when I bring it back but I will reflect on it further.
I wish to make one or two other points. We have talked about whether prospective candidates should have to declare their sexuality. My noble friend Lord Alli made an interesting and important point about whether there should be a category of those who are gay and openly gay. All these things need to be reflected on. I concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the discussions that have taken place with Stonewall, which is very sensitive to these issues. Stonewall agrees with the Government and the right honourable Theresa May that the non-mandatory monitoring of sexual orientation in Parliament is important. With careful safeguards in place to protect people's identity, Stonewall believes it is the right step, and it is the body that is most sensitive to these issues.
Baroness Northover: Does the noble Baroness agree that it is worth bearing in mind what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said about the importance of information and the need for transparency, and about ensuring that, when this information is available, pressure is put on all the relevant political parties to make sure that they are producing diverse people for election?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Both noble Baronesses are right to make the points that they do. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that the primary task of political parties at the moment must be to ensure that there is no direct or indirect discrimination in their selection processes.
Let me answer a couple more questions. I was asked about ensuring the anonymity of data. Any data provided voluntarily would be aggregated nationally and there would be a requirement for data to be reported in such
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